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8. Learn tongue twisters and sound effects.

Not only do tongue twisters force you to look at Japanese in new ways, they are also instant conversation starters. Unlike in English, where sound effects are only found in comic books and cartoons, Japanese sound effects are part of daily speech and your speech sound more natural if you learn them. Peko peko is how the Japanese describe a stomach growling, and adding desu (is/am) on the end turns the phrase into “I’m hungry.” Did you know that there are at least four ways of describing the sound of rain in Japanese? They even have a sound to describe silence.

Fun fact: The Japanese word for “tongue twister” is hayakuchi kotoba which means “fastmouth word(s).”

9. Settle on one system of romanization.

Writing Japanese down using the Roman alphabet can be a bit tricky as there isn’t one set-in-stone format to follow. For example, “fu” (ふ) replaces the “hu” sound (ha/hi/fu/he/ho) so verbs like “fuku” are sometimes dictated as “huku”. The difference in pronounciation is extremely slight. “Tsu” (つ) may be written as “tu”, “shi” (し) as “si”, “dou” (どう) as “doo”, etc. Be careful not to mistake these inconsistencies in romanization as two different words! Pick one system of romanization that makes sense to you, and make sure that your learning materials match it.

10. GO TO JAPAN, and get out of the cities.

No matter how many books you read, movies you watch, or people you talk to, you won’t be able to experience the real Japan until you go there. Your conversational skills and reading abilities will shoot up exponentially. Just don’t forget to keep enforcing them once you get home. Instead of just being a tourist, do a home-stay or volunteer at a farm through WWOOF. The big cities are full of English speakers and Japanese people who want to practice their English on you, so getting away from them is the best way to get the most out of Japan in a short period of time. Don’t forget to karaoke your brains out and have fun!

8 Free Online Resources for Studying Japanese

1. ALC is online dictionary for Japanese people to convert between English to Japanese and visa versa, and it’s full of uncommon uses and examples in English. You’ll even get an entry if you type in “facepalm.”

2. Jim Breen’s Japanese Dictionary (WWWJDIC) is a very useful, accurate online dictionary hosted by Monash University in Australia.

3. The vast Japanese Grammar Database focuses on preparing you for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). It can be a bit difficult to search for entries as you have to enter most of them in Japanese, but when it works, it works well.

4. Kiki’s Kanji Dictionary provides you with a myriad of ways to look up kanji to help you find that one elusive symbol.

5. Here’s a great list of Japanese tongue twisters with translations at the bottom. Take note that many tongue twisters in Japanese require emphasis on different parts of words that often aren’t dictated here. Ask your conversation partner for help.

6. NJStar is a company that makes Chinese and Japanese word processors (like Microsoft Word) so you can type your papers in Japanese. It offers verb conjugations, kanji radical look-ups, and a Japanese symbol character map amongst other things. Although this is a paid product, you can continue to use the basics even after the trial expires.

7. Lang-8 is a unique blogging website because it specifically exists so you can blog in the language you’re learning and let native speakers correct your errors.

8. You do have to be a member of Livejournal to post a question, but their Japanese language community is very active and you can usually get an accurate answer within an hour. The profile page is full of useful links.

Community Connection

Planning a trip to Japan? Check out 10 Japanese Customs You Must Know Before a Trip to Japan and 10 Extraordinarily Useful Japanese Phrases for Travelers.

Need a little inspiration in your language learning? Read about 5 New Year’s Resolutions for Language Learners: Creative Strategies to Increase Fluency.

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About The Author

Jessica Aves

Jessica Aves lives in Los Angeles where her life is run by parakeets. She’s been to Puerto Rico, Japan, and around the US irregardless of her severe food allergies. Jessica has written for Los Angeles Magazine’s website and Her specialty is Japanese rock music.

  • Foodhism

    2 simple tips are :

    1) If you are already in Japan- don’t hang around too many english teachers if you’re already in Japan since that won’t do you’re japanese any good.

    2) try to learn 3-4 new words per day …. trying to learn the academic way is useless, your Kanji skills might be decent but you wont be able to speak at all!

    3) grab a copy of the slang book “making out in japanese” …it’s written in romaji (japanese in english characters so you can actually read it) It will do you wonders and boost your speaking skills.
    Think about it, in any language if someone talks too polite most of the time they sound a bit … I should I put it … gay!
    we all use slang, regardless of our age and this book will show you that there are other ways to speak than just with the -masu ending

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  • Grace @ Sandier Pastures

    Interesting post! I lived in Japan for more than 10 years and arrived there knowing nothing of Nihongo. I was into this intensive Japanese language study for 6 months before getting into an undergraduate program at a university.

    Two more tips I should add is: (1) Listen to Japanese music, learn the lyrics – helps with simple expressions and kanji reading (2) Watch Japanese drama – there you can learn the slang, the type of conversations people use in Japan. It’s not always the same as what the teachers teach in class.

    Last tip: get out of your comfort zone (usual same-nationality-same language group) and make Japanese friends! :-)

  • sarahf

    I’ve been learning Japanese for 5 years and have struggled every step of the way. Watching dramas and reading manga help keep me motivated. There are also some bilingual magazines that make reading more fun than a lot of the text books. A good dictionary is essential.

  • Jessica Aves

    I was looking for this for my article, but I couldn’t find it until my friend mentioned it by chance. Middlebury Language School is the best immersion program in the United States for studying Japanese. It’s really expensive, and the curriculum is a bit brutal, but it’s extremely effective. Their school is in Vermont, but they have a summer class in California. They have other languages, too.

    • Noah

      Seconded. Middlebury is awesome. I did it for level 3 Japanese. I don’t quite agree with the author of the article on that one point. I met people who came in at level one (that is, little to no experience with the language), and after 9 weeks, were way more fluent than I had been after a years worth of college courses.

  • nik

    Wow, my school still uses the Nakama text book.
    I also highly reccomend practicing with relatives and friends who have grew up speaking Japanese or who happen to live in Japan as well. Being able to speak comfortably around others in a foreign language makes it an easier experience.
    小さい時 日本語 を 勉強したり こと が 有りました。でも 三年 あと で 日本語 を 話する が 下手 です。。。
    Well Happy Langauge Learning! がんばって!

  • ThaisChalencon

    Really good advices!!! It will be the language I will learn this year.


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  • kietero

    Another tip: ignore “romanizing” altogether.  When you get here to Japan, you’ll find zero Japanese in romaji.  Learn to recognize basic kanji (such as bathroom, hospital, station, your city’s name, basic “survival” kanji and so-0n).  Knowing how to read them isn’t necessary if you’re trying to make a mad-dash for the can after eating some bad sushi, or you discovered the hideous taste of nattou after you thought it looked good enough to try, and you need to know where you’re going.

    Also, the whole concept of “Japanese wanna try their english out on you” isn’t as common as one might think. Especially here, in Tokyo, many people will simply ignore you – the concept of “you’ve seen one gaijin, you’ve seen them all” has started to sink into the national way of thinking.

    The idea of a conversation partner is perfect – a strong recommendation that one should take seriously.  I married mine :)

  • Jasmine Clark

    thanks so much, this is REALLY helpful, i mean it! i tried to learn japanese and i had a hard time.

  • Gay


  • William Sumners

    I’d say the only slang I know would be ‘Baka’, meaning ‘Idiot’.

  • Wuugal

    Haha I thought this was funny because I actually could rattle of the terms for those useless words. But I also knew the useful ones as well, so it’s not so bad :P

  • Drey Cool

    I’m thinking of learning Japanese to challenge my brain to see how much information I can still retainI’m thinking of learning Japanese to challenge my brain to see how much information I can still retain.

    • Nami Sakai

      I think it’s really good idea.

  • Anonymous

    If you didn’t say YODA I would have not had a clue!

  • Rachel

    Haha, the second part of number 4 is very true. However, 4 and 5 are very useful, and I can say this as someone that has been learning Japanese for 6 years. I was very into J-pop before I started learning, so by the time I did start lessons, I had mastered almost all the pronunciation, and knew many Japanese words. Although it’s very rare, I have even picked up a few grammar points from listening to J-pop. Plus, it’s an easy thing to talk about with Japanese people.

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